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All good things come to an end, inevitably. Just don’t believe Röyksopp when they say it’s over.
After releasing their critically acclaimed debut Melody A.M. in 2001, The Understanding in 2005, 2009’s Junior and follow-up Senior one year later, the Grammy Award-nominated Norwegian duo — individually Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge — announced in 2014 that their fifth studio album, The Inevitable End, would be their last.
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But never say never (ever): the eccentric, sonically eclectic electronic outfit quietly reemerged (or, by their own description, “crawled back”) with the launch of their Instagram account at the start of 2022, followed by the release of an array of uncanny “artifacts” – vaguely recognizable, yet indescribable visual art pieces created by Australian artist Jonathan Zawada and short films created alongside production team Bacon.
Snippets of songs surfaced on their website shortly after, leading to the announcement of a project: Profound Mysteries, a collection of songs released this past April 29.
Known for their captivating and emotionally charged collaborations — especially when it comes to those with top-tier Swedish talent, including Robyn, Lykke Li and The Knife‘s Karin Dreijer — Röyksopp assembled another enviable roster of performers to carry out their latest undertaking, including longtime collaborator Susanne Sundfør, as well as newer recruits, like Goldfrapp’s Alison Goldfrapp, Pixx and Astrid S.
And that wasn’t the only surprise.
As new artifacts began to emerge once more on their social media weeks after the Profound Mysteries release date, the two are revealing today (June 15) that their latest chapter continues: Profound Mysteries II arrives on August 19. This second collection of songs is led by two very sonically opposing offerings, out now: the gently devastating “Sorry” featuring the quivering vocals of Jamie Irrepressible, and “Unity,” a warm club banger commanded by U.K. dance diva Karen Harding.
The duo dove back into the sounds that informed their formative years as a band in the early ‘90s amid the Tromsø techno scene, a close-knit group hailing from the small city in Norway. Following the trails blazed by their musical heroes, Röyksopp pushes them outward even further towards still uncharted territory, with even more of life’s mysteries left still to explore.
Ahead of the release of Profound Mysteries II, Brundtland and Berge spoke to Billboard about false promises, life’s mysteries, and Scandinavian table manners.
After 2014’s The Inevitable End, you said that was going to be the end of albums from Röyksopp. Let’s talk about how we got here.
Torbjørn Brundtland: I think George Costanza needs to be mentioned. He quit his job, like we quit albums. But then he crawled back into the office through the ventilation system. I think that’s comparable to our situation, with the whole quitting albums thing.
Svein Berge: On that note, didn’t Kramer also leave the job, but then he just turned back up at work as if nothing had happened? He was away for a couple of years, and he was just there again… We’re just here.
It’s not as though you were truly gone, though. You’ve had collaborations and contributions since, and 2021’s the Lost Tapes series of demos and rarities…
SB: We should give you a straight answer, so you’re not left with Seinfeld history.
We said we were abandoning the traditional album format, but there was more to be said. Hopefully it’s going to be more evident to people that this is not a traditional album. We tried to give it a spin with the conceptual art made by Jonathan Zawada – the expanded universe, as it were. It was something we had to do; an urge, which is really what drives us to make music anyway, regardless of the project. As for Lost Tapes, that’s been put on hiatus, simply because we directed our focus to Profound Mysteries. That is to be dragged out of hibernation at some point.
Is there an intentional sonic difference between Profound Mysteries I and II?
SB: There is. We wanted Part I to be in broad strokes. Us sort of reemerging. The first part is constructed in terms of its sonography – how it builds from nothing to something. A slow fade-in.
TB: I believe it was Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk who said “fade in, rather than fade out.”
SB: We wanted it to be a bit sparse and a bit secretive…seeping back into your consciousness, just to be extremely pretentious. The first one is a bit more introspective and hidden in comparison to the second, which is a bit more out there, and possibly more accessible. The funny thing with the second part is that it’s moving forward by looking back. There are so many nods to genres and artists that played a part in shaping us musically since we were kids that we point to on the second part, for those with the esoteric ear to pick up.
Which sorts of specific artists or genres inspired II?
TB: There are periods of time, like ‘90s rave energy… and there are a lot of nods [to other artists]. But if we were to mention one, two or three artists to you, that would be sort of “the thing,” and that’s not what we are trying to do. Obviously there are artists that inspired us, but it’s not something we’re trying to communicate with this album. It’s more that the feeling they taught us how to convey.
SB: We don’t want to make cheap, retro copies of something that has already been done. It’s trying to suck some of that magic dust these people that came before us put onto their music into our music, but without making it sound as if we’re trying to make songs that they made.
Speaking to your music, you’ve always had this signature emotional and wistful sound – songs like “Only This Moment,” “Running to the Sea,” “I Had This Thing.” Some of your most defining tracks sound like they’re chasing or grasping for something.
SB: Being able to communicate something with music that you cannot communicate with words is a fine thing. I struggle sometimes to find the words to express, hence us doing whatever we do with the music, particularly the instrumental music where there’s no words to lean on — this sense of movement, nostalgia, melancholy. We quite often have an element of ambiguity or duality, which is something we intentionally try to find.
TB: With this project, we could also add “mystery” to it. Mystery of life. I hope that when we make music and people come back and say “this gives me something,” it’s a little bit about sort of the mystery of existence – not that we are trying to be mystical in that smokescreen fashion. There’s a beautiful quote from Dune, which is: “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” That rings true for us, and I think that’s what we are telling with our music.
You’ve got longtime collaborators, like singer-songwriters Susanne Sundfør and Jamie Irrepressible. What brings them from album to album for you?
TB: There is definitely chemistry, on a personal level as well. It would be strange if there wasn’t. It has to work. In the case of those two, we write the lyrics and the melodies, and we have them in mind. There is a process of finding the right match for the performer and the track. That’s not chance. That’s something that is highly calculated. But although we have made the song, it’s not even half done by doing so. It’s all about the performance they give. Because if I were to step up to the mic and deliver the lyrics or the melody… it wouldn’t work.
So you couldn’t do that big note in “Running to the Sea”?
TB: [Laughs.] Exactly, I cannot. Suzanne is just… it’s bordering on eerie to behold. We’re sat in the studio and we joke and laugh, and then she will step up to the microphone and she will sing as if her life depends on it, and back to laughing again. It’s ridiculous. She’s that great.
Speaking of collaborators and communities, I’m wondering what you think about the current dance scene, and where it exists now.
TB: The current scene is, luckily, a lot of things. That hasn’t changed for us. Some people look at the scene as music that crosses over, because electronic dance music became pop at some stage in the last 10 years. That’s not necessarily where we’re looking, but the club scene is thriving. I think the dance music available is just great. Without getting too technical, it also sounds really good on the engineering side. It plays a big part in the enjoyment and fun. It’s so easy to have fun to something that sounds great on a big system.
SB: On the flip side, because it’s so saturated with music, there is a lot of crap as well. I have to be blunt and state the obvious. But as far as electronic music goes, for example, the genre of traditional rock was proclaimed “dead.” Those kinds of statements are so redundant. It’s just not as prominent, but it’s obviously still there. It’s just shifted a bit. Electronic music is now mainstream pop music. It’s just a little shift, but nothing really dies. It just becomes a bit more specialized and disappears and reappears. I like those shifting trends.
The music landscape has also changed a lot since your last album, especially in terms of the rise of streaming. What are the changes you’ve encountered?
SB: I can say one thing, neither of us have been on social media – this is going to really display us as Methuselah. Elderly men is what I’m saying. Luddites, to a certain extent. We know the importance of it, because we are clever enough to understand the importance from a business point of view. Although we’re speaking to you now, we’re sort of secretive in terms of our presence in the public eye. We tend to hide and just let music live its little life.
The biggest shift I can see is that everything is a bit odd, given the pandemic. There are less people attending gigs and so on now, because they still haven’t really readjusted compared to how it used to be. There’s an anticipation or a hesitation — people are waiting a bit and not fully ready to commit to things.
TB: From releasing music back in the day versus right now, one of the good things is that our followers are a nice bunch. They really are. We can see and appreciate that because they were more hidden to us before.
Are you preparing a live show?
TB: Yeah, we are. We are gonna do it rock and roll. It’s gonna be all guitars.
SB: Even the drums are going to be guitars. It’s gonna be very noisy.
And you’ll do holograms like ABBA, right?
SB: I want to see that! We don’t have ABBA budgets… yet. We need some crowdfunding to be able to pull that through, so anything you might have in your pockets would be very welcome.
We will be doing some touring. We’re starting, but we haven’t managed to put it all together. The pandemic is still lurking. It’s tricky. It’s an odd situation because all the major league players want to go out there and they take all the crew and venues and everything, so the little grunts like Torbjørn and myself are left to fend for our own. It’s an odd place to be in, really. We would love to tour…Europe, the States, Asia, wherever people want us to come.
What makes the Profound Mysteries campaign unique, compared to a traditional album?
SB: I want to point to Mr. Jonathan Zawada and his wonderful visualizers that accompany the project, and his highly mysterious artifacts that he has made for us.
In addition, we did this little dogmatic little thing with a production company called Bacon. We asked a bunch of directors to make movies to songs. We gave one director one song and said there are two rules: you are to make some visual representation of how you see that song, and it has to be longer than 20 seconds. That’s a little challenge we put out to some of our director friends. We have been enjoying how they have solved that task so far immensely.
Speaking of your friends, there is a conversation brewing on social media, perhaps you have some Scandinavian insight. The world is finding out that Swedish people, culturally, don’t always feed dinner to their guests, or explicitly have them join their families at the dinner table. Like if you’re visiting your friend’s house, you just hang out in their room as they have dinner with their family.
SB: I’ve seen that, yeah.
TB: The explanation, I believe, is that it would be a signal. Like, “Well, this family can’t feed their own.” I think that’s the justification for that. I don’t have strong opinions on this matter. It’s very situational. When I was a kid, I’d be horrified in some situations to come to the dinner table and I would be happy to play with Legos in the room. Whereas other times, if you are hungry and you’re skipping dinner at home, it could be nice.
SB: Norway, when we grew up in the ‘80s or so, was the same.
I had friends where that would happen. I would sit down and play with Legos or draw during dinner and reconvene with my friend after they had eaten. But sometimes I would join depending on what the circumstance was. And sometimes I was given the option by their parents. It comes down to how confident I am, sitting at their table. For instance, a friend of mine had a religious family, so they would say table prayers before eating. We don’t do that in my family, so that would be very strange for me. I would never allow myself to be sat at that table, simply because I wouldn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to offend them. It would be strange to me to fold my hands and praise the food. So, I just resigned to the Legos and the drawing.
Will the Mysteries continue?
TB: I love that there’s an A.I. revolution going on. There’s a famous researcher making cool videos talking to language models. They are becoming something that looks sentient. He asks one of these language models: “How do you feel?” And just one word comes back: “Expansive.”
SB: Write that. “Expansive,” followed by “…ominous silence ensues.”
Do you have goals for the music that you make now, and did they change from the goals you had when you started making music?
TB: I would like to circle back to the beginning of this interview. We said something about making music as an urge. I think that’s why we’ve made music the whole time. And that’s why we’re still doing it.
SB: And world domination, obviously.